U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner DD-692
Commander Charles T. Frohne, Jr. Story
July 29, 1960
Thanks to Tom Frohne and Michael Barnette

The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior, the largest carrier-based aircraft in U.S. Navy inventory and nicknamed the “Whale,” was designed as a strategic bomber and attack aircraft, and also served as a tanker aircraft. The A3D-2P was a specialized photographic reconnaissance version of the A3D-2 Skywarrior.

At 5:40 p.m. (EST) on July 29, 1960, Commander Charles T. Frohne, Jr., along with Lieutenant Junior Grade R.B. Paganessi and Photographer’s Mate R.V. Schomer, were participating in refresher carrier landings in preparation for night carrier qualifications on the USS SARATOGA off the Florida coast. Commander Frohne was the commanding officer of VAP-62, based out of Jacksonville. On their first landing, their Skywarrior touched down and caught the #6 wire and proceeded to run down the deck for 155 feet in an apparent normal arrestment. At this point, the aircraft’s tail hook point failed, however, and the Skywarrior continued down the angled deck without hopes of capture. As the aircraft approached the deck edge, Commander Frohne added full power. Unfortunately, it was a futile effort as the large aircraft lumbered off the carrier, its right wing striking the catwalk as it cleared the SARATOGA’s deck. Simultaneously, the crew proceeded to retract the landing gear and attempt a successful bolter, but the timing of the tail hook failure robbed the aircraft of sufficient forward speed. The Skywarrior hit the water, its nose breaking off completely aft of the ventral escape hatch. The aircraft initially stayed afloat, and the rescue destroyer ALLEN M. SUMNER (DD-692) steamed into position. Schomer popped to the surface, his life vest inflated, but he was still strapped in his seat and tangled in parachute rigging. The SUMNER’s rescue swimmer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Painter leapt overboard and attempted to cut Schomer free. As the Skywarrior sank, Painter was pulled under twice as he struggled to rescue Schomer. Tragically, he was unable to cut Schomer loose and Schomer was carried to the bottom entangled in wreckage. Commander Frohne and Lieutenant Junior Grade Paganessi were also killed in the crash.

The wreck, locally known as the “Chinaman Wreck,” was first located by New Smyrna Beach commercial fisherman Jimmy Chang in the late 1960s. Available information, including recovered aluminum wreckage in fishing gear, indicated the wreck may be that of an aircraft. AUE dived the mystery wreck in July 2014 and found the inverted but largely intact remains of a Douglas Skywarrior in 230 feet of water. AUE, working with Roy Stafford (Black Shadow Aviation, USN retired), the A-3 Skywarrior Association, and the Naval History and Heritage Command, identified the wreck as BuNo 144845 based on location, aircraft type (reconnaissance model), and damage, all of which was consistent with Commander Frohne’s aircraft, as well as lack of other A3D-2P Skywarrior losses in the area.

Footage of the July 29, 1960, crash from USS SARATOGA can be viewed online at http://youtu.be/rjKN71t8_ts

This incident reinforces the dangerous job our uniformed services accept everyday, regardless if they are in a foreign war zone or simply conducting basic training at home. The family of Commander Frohne have graciously shared the attached images, one of which depicts Commander Frohne (a veteran of World War II) in the pilot's seat of his Skywarrior aircraft in 1960.